Fighting has always played a major role in my relationships. When I get mad, I want to yell, scream, and cater to every angry indulgence short of stomping my feet like a four-year-old. My past relationships have consisted of intense blow-out fights followed by even more intense make-up sex, an uncontrollable roller coaster that I thought was normal, and even fun. But the relationships never lasted more than a few years, always crumbling into an exhausted mess of guilt and blame.
My current relationship has been very different. Whereas I like to yell, my boyfriend is quiet and withdrawn. Our communication styles are not only different, but they trigger one another. The quieter he is, the louder I become. The louder I become, the more he pulls back.
At first, we were completely unable to resolve our conflicts. He didn't know how to respond to my anger, and I didn't know how to respond to his lack-thereof. We would talk in circles, eventually imploding into a mess of tears that would put the disagreement on the back burner, only to be picked up later. We couldn't move forward, and it looked as if things were doomed. So, I started looking into healthier methods of communication.
Wait, what are we fighting about?
Fighting can be an extremely useful tool because it reveals your weakest points, like an inability to communicate or an issue with trust or commitment. It's highly unlikely that without some sort of trigger your partner would walk up and say “Hey sweetie, hope your day was great. I have abandonment issues and a serious fear of not being in control. What's for dinner?” Disagreements provide the opportunity to work through your biggest issues.
But what about stupid fights? Trivial-seeming disagreements usually hint at a larger problem you may have to hunt for. This is where the good work comes in. For instance, I do the cooking in the house, and my boyfriend does the dishes. That's our agreement. When I wake up in the morning to a sink of dirty dishes, I get upset. At the root, I'm not mad because there is a stack of chili bowls in the sink. I'm mad because he didn't hold up his side of the bargain, and I feel disrespected, and unappreciated.
This took several arguments for me to figure out. Like, several years of arguments. Sure, I knew right away it pushed a button –- but why? I was expressing my emotions, but I wasn't exactly sure what I was emoting.
Arguing by nature is a logical process. Emotions are completely illogical. It's this divide that makes so many fights disastrous. But fighting can be useful if you let it be. You're moving forward. There will hopefully be some amazing sex afterward, and you will better understand each other.
Below are a handful of ways you can fight better. It can be hard to actually implement these tools while fighting, because we're often overcome with anger, er, passion. Try anyway.
1. Schedule a time to fight.
This sounds utterly ridiculous, I know, but just hear me out. I used to pick fights when my emotions were raging, because I felt I simply could not wait. Sometimes this meant ambushing my guy when he walked in the door, or lashing out in the evening, resulting in a sleepless night for all.
If you can wait it out, the argument will undoubtedly go better. This is similar to that old “count to ten” rule you heard when you were five. Waiting out your emotion shows you that your reactions are just that -– a fleeting emotion. Pick a time to sit down and talk about your issues, a time where no one will be distracted or exhausted from work or really excited for the new seasons of "Wilfred." It can be hard to hold off, but it's always worth it.
2. Avoid name calling or hurtful language.
Your fighting space should be a safe zone to say how you really feel in hopes of working things out -– because that's what you want ultimately, right? Calling someone an immature asshole will make them lash out in return, and put up a wall between you.
3. Focus on “I” statements.
When you focus on what the other person is doing wrong, they will feel attacked and probably get defensive. Instead, start off with “I” statements. “I feel like you did not consider my feelings” is easier to respond to than “You don't give a s**t about my feelings.”
4. Take responsibility.
Ask yourself what part you had in the situation. Let's go back to the bowls-in-the-sink scenario. Sure I could just nag and rage on about how my boyfriend doesn't stick to his word and is disrespectful. But by turning it on yourself and asking if you had any part in the issue, you can gain another perspective and avoid acting like a raging dictator. For instance, perhaps I did not fully explain to my boyfriend why it's important to me that he holds up his end of the bargain. This helps you avoid the blame-game, which really gets you nowhere.
5. Try not to bring up the past.
This one is hard for me. When arguing, I am constantly fighting the urge to bring up an arsenal of examples from the past that support my case. This is not effective, because it focuses on specifics, not the actual problem. Mentioning the 10 times they messed up in the past won't help solve the actual issue. They are still aware of their former offenses, trust. You don't need to bring up the waitress from Applebee's every time you fight about flirting.
6. Don't walk out of the conversation.
And if you do, explain you will be back. This is a tip I learned in a couple's group and I found it very helpful. Before this tip was suggested, I was the queen of dramatic exits. I was constantly curbing an urge to stomp outside and attempt to sleep in the car, only so my boyfriend would come out and beg me back inside and make me feel validated. Mature? No way. A real urge? Completely.
Dramatic exits can be manipulative, as they threaten abandonment. If you really need to take some space (and are not simply inspired by a need to be pursued) say, “I need some space, I will be back in a few hours and we can continue our talk then.” Look how grown-up that sounds!
7. Focus on the positive, not the negative.
If you're fighting about behavioral issues, suggest things your partner could do more of, rather than focusing on what they aren't doing. This moves things forward and sounds less like finger-pointing.
Anger can be a valuable tool if you use it right. Fights work as a release of pressure, and once the pressure is gone, an emotional flood-gate is opened. Why do you think post-fight sex is the best?
Zoe is the co-author of the Lusty Vegan, a Cookbook and Relationship Manifesto for Vegans and the People Who Love Them. You can find her dealing with her anger on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog, SexyTofu.com.